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Nicole Reisman has been cooking supper twice a week for more than 150 people who are in need of a good meal.

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It takes a village to feed a village

With help from the community, local chef produces free takeout meals for those who need them

Nicole’s Community Kitchen can be found at bit.ly/NicoleKitchen. Her GoFundMe page can be found at gofundme.com/f/nicoles-community-kitchen. Contact Nicole Reisman at chefnicolereisman@gmail.com.

BRATTLEBORO—Nicole Reisman was working as a private chef until the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted her business and the livelihoods of so many others.

She wanted to help those who are having a hard time getting meals during this crisis.

“There’s just so much anxiety now that I thought it would be nice for people to get a well-cooked meal to ease that anxiety,” said the native of Memphis, Tenn. who moved to Brattleboro last fall.

On March 17, Reisman put a notice out on Facebook: If anyone needed food, she offered to cook them a free supper — no questions asked.

Reisman started cooking meals twice a week for a few people, and then a few more, and then still more. Some came to pick up their meals; others, she delivered to people who were housebound.

What started out as a small enterprise out of the kitchen of her Central Street home turned into a major undertaking, with Reisman serving as food prepper, chef, meal packager, and delivery person as she prepared as many as 160 meals a week.

And that’s when the community stepped up to help.

With donations of food, money, and time, what’s now known as Nicole’s Community Kitchen is preparing food for more than 150 recipients on Tuesdays and Fridays each week.

And now, she has a bigger kitchen to do her work.

Jon Julian, owner of Top of the Hill Grill, has opened his kitchen space on Putney Road to Reisman while his restaurant was closed until its customary May re-opening.

Now, she has storage space for perishable food donations and much more room to make many more meals.

“I just had one little oven and no room to store things,” Reisman said. “Then Jon offered me this space. He reached out to me on Facebook and pretty much just gave me the keys. It’s been a game changer.”

When The Commons caught up with Reisman on Monday, as she began preparations on the next day’s meal, she was busy mixing ground beef and pork for meatloaf, which would be served with macaroni and cheese with broccoli. Lasagna was on deck for the May 1 meal.

Reisman had reservations for 157 meals for both days this week, or more than double the meals she was able to make in her kitchen at home.

“There is no way I could do this at home,” she said.

She said a pivotal moment in the growth of Nicole’s Community Kitchen was getting delivery drivers and volunteers to help with the administration and logistics of feeding so many people. Tony Duncan of Brattleboro is coordinating volunteers who are delivering the meals.

And the logistics are considerable. Reisman’s doing all the shopping at Brattleboro’s grocers, and finding the needed supplies can be difficult in light of the various restrictions and limits on food purchases since the pandemic began.

“Feeding 157 people at retail prices isn’t cheap,” she said.

Fortunately, she said, people have been generous with financial help.

“The community has been incredible,” Reisman said. “I started a GoFundMe page, and I got more than $600 in two hours.” The fundraising effort has received nearly $2,200 as of this week.

The United Way of Windham County also kicked in some money from its COVID-19 Response Fund.

Then there are the non-monetary donations. Volunteers have brought desserts to add to the meal deliveries. Walter Hagedorn and his Love Sheep donated hundreds of biodegradable takeout containers. The Brattleboro Elks donated produce from its kitchen. A graphic designer surprised her with a logo, complete with the tagline “the People’s Chef.”

Reisman said meals are going out to recipients in Brattleboro, Putney, Guilford, and Dummerston, and to nearby towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She plans to continue with her twice-weekly supper deliveries as long she can.

Her efforts are appreciated.

“You’re [an] amazing person,” Tammy Musgrove wrote on the Nicole’s Community Kitchen Facebook page. “We need more people like you. God bless you.”

“You are a phenomenal cook, and pay such attention to detail!” wrote Sherri Keefe. “I hope you find a home in a kitchen here, after this is all over, and continue to be able to make your fabulous food for the community.”

“Things may be getting better with the coronavirus, but the economy isn’t getting better,” Reisman said. “There are a lot of small businesses that are really hurting, and some of them may not come back.”

“This whole experience has given far more to me than I have given to it,” she added.

“I have never felt such a sense of community as I have felt here,” Reisman said. “As long as the support keeps coming, I’ll keep cooking.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #559 (Wednesday, April 29, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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